Back From the Edge
A feather light touch at her temple brought her back.
Sam leaned into it—sighed, and flickered a brief smile.
Too little lately had felt good—had felt right.
But this little touch filled her with something sweet, and precious, and good.
She was light. Flying? Resting? Floating somewhere in that deep peace between sleep and wakefulness, she decided, where she could imagine things being not what they really were. And it was cool, and clean, and fresh, and soft, and she was comfortable. And no pain blurred through the sensation.
She liked the no pain part.
The voice intruded again, but it wasn't unpleasant. Not like the dryness of her mouth, or—she realized—the taste there. She ran her tongue along her teeth and grimaced, opened her lips and found it uncomfortable to do so.
Her head was being raised, some kind of a machine sounded, and she felt her body being lifted. And then she realized where she was, and opened her eyes.
The other sounds flooded in, then. The subtle beeping of the monitors, the mechanical hums of the base itself. Janet's shoes' click-click along the cement floor, soft voices and the slight clanking of instruments and trays.
"You back in the land of the living?"
She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry. She settled for moving her head to one side, stretching.
Oh, the irony. Unbelievably, she could almost smile at that.
She heard the metallic scrape of institutional chair legs on the floor and angled a look to her side to find the Colonel sitting in just such an institutional chair, feet planted firmly on the ground, one hand dangling easily on his knee, his other hand—elsewhere.
The backs of his fingers brushed her cheek.
"No fever." He said quietly. "You're not delusional."
"Delirious." She automatically corrected through brittle lips.
He smiled, then—one corner of his mouth quirking up, his eyes expressing even more. "Whatever. You're not that."
"Don't worry about that, just yet, Carter. You concentrate on feeling better."
"The people on the planet?"
"Safe and sound. And free. You managed to fulfill your destiny—or whatever."
Her eyes went hazy briefly before she fought back into lucidity. She saw the Colonel stand and reach for something on the table next to her head, then sit gingerly on the side of the bed. He lifted a little plastic cup and positioned the straw. "Small sips."
She obeyed him and took a single experimental draw before drinking again. This time she savored the cool liquid as it soothed her mouth, her throat, her body. She wet her lips with a renewed tongue. "The mountain?"
"The generator leveled it. It's probably still spewing back there."
"How long has it been?"
He hesitated, and she saw doubt flash across his face.
"You've been out of it for a few days. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure exactly how long it's been."
And she knew that he was lying. But did it matter? Eventually it might, but not now.
Sam ran her fingers along the smooth fabric of the sheets, enjoying the sensation. She used the comfort she found in the simple motion to brace herself for what she had to say. Looking up at her CO from beneath her eyelashes, she watched as he futzed with the straw in her water cup, trying to get it to sink to the bottom instead of floating in a lopsided cant against the side.
"I'm sorry." She hadn't meant to blurt it, but once she'd started, she couldn't seem to stop. "I'm sorry that I didn't trust you on the bridge—I should have believed in you. But I didn't want to drag you over the edge, and I thought I would—I—and then everything went wrong, and you were hurt—" she faltered at his look, which was a mix of incredulity and sympathy. "And I'm sorry."
"It's over, Carter." His hand stilled on the straw, and he deliberately let it float and sat down again, scooting his chair even closer to her. "Done with."
"Are you sure?"
"Well, seeing how you've officially attained the status of deity on P7L-whatever—"
"Yeah—that." He waved a hand dismissively. "Seeing how you're now considered to be their god, far be it for me to second guess you."
"Sir." Her tone held disapproval, and a hefty dose of skepticism.
His lips thinned and he reached for her hand, running a roughened fingertip over the bruises there. "You've been hurt pretty badly, Carter. Don't you want to rest up before you start beating yourself up again?"
She grimaced. "How bad is it?"
"I should let Fraiser tell you that."
He deliberated, his fingers still tracing the fine bone in her wrist. Finally, without looking at her, he began. "Stitches in your scalp—you'll have a scar."
"I figured on that one."
"Bruising, abrasions, lacerated feet, blisters from the heat, burn on your leg. Deep bone bruises on your legs—and I'm sure your back and shoulders don't feel great." He gestured at the IV running up her other arm. "Or at least they won't once Doc Fraiser takes away the happy juice."
Sam glanced at the IV with distaste. She hated being drugged.
"Burn on your—head—there." He pointed at a spot just above the center of her forehead. "The Cool guy used his hand device on you."
"Yeah, him." The Colonel nodded, shrugging. "But that one should heal up right away. Sunburn—that's what Fraiser equated it to."
"Was I—" She could feel herself go scarlet, her cheeks burning. But she had to know—she'd lost some time after the Zat, didn't recall much until O'Neill had entered the room and dispatched the Goa'uld. Knew the Pig god had been on top of her. "I don't remember."
"No." His face became hard—expressionless. "Doc says no."
She raised a hand and covered her face. Relief brought a well of tears to her eyes. She blinked them back and breathed deep, then swiped away any hint they'd been there at all.
Around them, the infirmary quieted, and she allowed herself to sag into the bed, into the comfort of the pillows and the cool sheets and weight of the cheap institutional blanket. She turned her head and found him watching her, and he suddenly looked different—more familiar somehow.
"How much am I going to have to explain?"
"About what, exactly?"
"I wasn't really dressed right."
His eyes widened slightly. "We covered you up."
"Did you bring me right back here, or—"
"There was a ring platform near the 'Gate. Daniel and I brought you back here. Teal'c stayed behind with the Marines to try to salvage the Al'Kesh."
"It was damaged?"
"Carter—remember? Big boom."
"Oh yeah." He grinned like an eleven year old boy. "It was really cool. But it knocked out some key systems, so we limped back to the 'Gate, ringed down, and then 'Gated home while Teal'c landed. We're hoping it can be salvaged. But the important thing is that everyone is safe. All the village people, the ladies—" he extended a hand in front of his stomach, "the girl. All back at home, and no snakes on the planet anymore."
"Good." She closed her eyes and sank back further. "Then it was worth it."
She heard him breathing, felt his hand there, at her side, assiduously not touching hers. But she wanted him to—needed physical contact in that moment to prove that she had made it, relatively unscathed. The past hours had tested her like little else had—humiliated her, tried her, taunted her, found her lacking in many abilities, abundant in others. And she needed something more than words. She found herself shifting her hand, barely teasing the back of his hand with her own.
And she was embarrassed that her tears had returned—but she let them come, this time, as she captured his gaze. "Thank you, sir."
He rose, reached for and handed her a tissue. She felt his eyes on her as she mopped at her eyes and wiped at her nose. And his hand came to rest gently on the side of her face, his thumb making a light sweep of her cheekbone. "Don't mention it." Lightness, teasing, his tone was easy. "Just don't make me do it again."
Sam watched as he suddenly leaned over the bed, one hand braced at her side, the other on her pillow. "Really. Don't ever make me do it again. Because I couldn't. Do you understand?"
All she could do was nod.
"Trust me, Carter. From now on." He searched her face, and she could see the rawness of his jaw where he'd just shaved, could smell his distinct scent—soap and gunpowder, and something indefinable that could just be attributed to him. "Don't ever do that again."
She shook her head this time. "I won't."
"I won't let you fall."
Another nod. "I know."
And the thing was, she did.
He leveled a look at her—fierce, insistent, honest. And it was too much—too close—too intimate—too everything.
And so he righted himself, shoving his hands in his pockets, still looking down at her with an expression too open for her to misunderstand. "So, do you need anything?"
"Just sleep, sir."
"Maybe a few days' leave."
"You know, I hear you can get killer deals to Maui this time of year. Sandy beaches, palms swaying in the wind, hula girls—the works."
Despite herself—or maybe because of herself—she laughed. "Maybe not."
"Maybe not." He nodded. "Well, Aki says you're welcome anytime—they're planning a luau."
"Yes." And he suddenly reached out and gripped her hand one more time, briefly caressing the back of her hand with his the pad of his thumb. And then, just as quickly, he let go, shoving his hand deep into the pocket of his BDU pants.
"I'd better get out of here before Fraiser thinks we're plotting a coup."
"Thank you, Colonel."
He shrugged lightly, rocking back on his heels, then turned away. Just as he shouldered his way through the curtain, he looked back at her.
"Unless you want me to stay."
She didn't have to answer. She merely opened her hand and laid it palm up at her side. And he turned and sat back down in the chair, and lightly touched his fingertips to hers. And for whatever reason, her eyes were suddenly heavy, and she sighed as she sank back into a hazy rest.
"Get some sleep, Carter." His voice soothed her. Comforting, reassuring. "I'll be here."
Mahalo Nui Loa to all of you who have been patient enough to travel with me through this story. I am always humbled when people follow these long ones, and am grateful and pleased when you've reviewed and commented. So thanks again, and Aloha!